Beach Vacation in Udupi

The Beach paradise exists. It isn’t a fable. And you don’t even need a secret map to reach it. Google maps is good enough.
I found my beach paradise in Udupi. Actually I found two and I can tell you that there are many more along the pristine Karavali Coast.
The first one was on the Kota Padukere Beach. The owners of this property have named it ‘Swarga by the Bay’ and I couldn’t agree more.
It’s truly piece of heaven located in the serene Kota village. The locals are kind and friendly and walking around the village and the fields is a charming experience. The house is well furnished and equipped with all the amenities needed to live as if in your own home.
It’s and exclusive property that is not yet on the tourist map. There is nothing between you and the sea except a picket fence.
Next we shifted towards Malpe and stayed at ‘Beach at the White House.’ This place comes with the luxury of a caretaker and a cook. So you can have the comfort of your own house as well as the service of goodnatured staff. Here we also witnessed bioluminescence.
The white washed house adds to the tranquil setting of the Hoode beach. It’s been designed with some interesting features such as this open air washroom.
These beach houses are not too far away from sightseeing hotspots, if that’s something you must do on a vacation. Otherwise these are the places you go to if you are looking for solitude and serenity.

Impressions from a coastal village in Karnataka

“We need eggs.”

“That shouldn’t be too difficult to find.”

The neighbour’s hen visits often, tailed by her chicks. Little A has been trying to make friends with the chicks. But they only want to play catch-me-if-you-can.

“I am not going to look for where they laid their eggs. Though a walk would be nice.”

There’s a shop that sells daily needs.

“Do you’ve peas?” He can’t understand me. I don’t know Kannada. I keep promising myself to start learning when my kid starts it in next grade.

‘Baṭāṇi’ – google translate to the rescue.

“You mean green peas!” The shopkeeper says in Hindi. He shows me a packet of dried peas. “We don’t get fresh peas often. You just need to soak these for three hours before cooking.”

Everything else is there. I would make spinach for lunch and pilaf for dinner.

“Are you staying at beach guest house? I can arrange for anything you need, just tell me a day in advance.” The shopkeeper knows the guest house owner, the caretaker, and everyone else. Everyone in the village knows everyone else – those with the green coloured house, or those in the pink house, the house with big brown gate, and the two houses that are now serving as guest houses.

“Do you need milk? ice creams – are there ? rasam powder?” he asks trying to help me in case I am forgetting any other essentials.

Yesterday I borrowed turmeric from the caretaker lady – ariśina – she was wearing a blue nightie. Today it’s a pink one – so far I haven’t seen her repeat a nightie. It’s the preferred work attire of the local ladies. The older ones manage in sarees – working in the fields or while digging cockles from the beach.

“Jalja Bai makes very good marwai, but you don’t get good fish here anymore.”

Locals take their nets to the sea several times in a day. A group of fishermen scours the shoreline every evening. They catch a handful of catfish and a lot of trash.

We’ll find good fish at our next stay, near Malpe.

Ice Cycling Feat on Baikal by Two Indians

This article was commissioned by Sputnik International:

Photographs by Nitin Gera

Nitin Gera from New Delhi and Anirban D Choudhury from Kolkata spent a fortnight riding mountain bikes on the frozen Lake Baikal in March this year. This was a unique expedition considering that Indians travelling to Siberia in winter is unheard of, let alone ice cycling.

It was a quest for adventure that urged Nitin Gera and Anirban D Choudhury to take a break from the agreeable subtropical climate of their homes in India and experience the solitude of Siberian winters. In March this year they packed their mountain bikes and supplies for a self-sufficient ice-expedition to a land that feels like a remote destination to an average Indian tourist.

Starting from Listvyanka, at the southern tip of Lake Baikal, they biked parallel to the western coast till Bugul’deyka, where an early onset of springtime thawing made ice cycling any further an extremely risky proposition.

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Three Russian Changpas

Three wanderlust struck Russians, in love with India, undertake a tough trek through the states of Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. Their spirit is somewhat akin to Changpas, the nomadic people of the Tibetan plateau. 

“Go anywhere, but to India,” her father forbade her from visiting just one country in the world for no apparent reason. Perhaps the father’s heart knew that it was one place which could win her girl away. A few years later, she is settled in New Delhi and married to a Bengali gentleman. Meet Nadya Nechaeva-Banerjee and her fellow travellers, birds of the same feather, Yana Badzhieva and Mikhail Filatov, both of whom live in Moscow but visit India often. They’ve covered tourist hotspots as well as some off-beat destinations. This is about their recent adventure in the high altitude districts of Ladakh and Spiti in India.

The trio trekked from Tso Kar Lake (4512m) in Changthang region of Ladakh to Kibber village (4205m) in Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh. Their journey took them to the pristine high altitude lake Tso Moriri (4512m) and from there along an ancient trade route through Parang La (5578m.) This trek, by all standards, is a strenuous one, but rewards an enthusiast with pristine panoramas amongst peaks towering beyond 6000m.

“Nadya asked me if I would like to trek in Ladakh and sent me a description of the route. I found out more on the web. Tso Moriri looked fantastic even on Google maps!” Mikhail recalls how the trip was planned. They made an itinerary based on maps and information available through internet. It is a prime trekking route in this region and there are several adventure tour companies which organize this trip. They could’ve hired any of such companies and made their journey a tad easier, but they opted to travel on their own without a guide or even porters. It is a choice that only daring and experienced people would make. Mikhail has hiked through the Caucasus, Ural, Carpathian, and Tian-Shan mountains. Nadya and Yana are trained in mountaineering basics from an amateurs’ school in Moscow. Previous winters they had trekked to Dodital in Uttarakhand through waist-deep snow.

They began their journey from Tso Kar with the lake and its surrounding marsh shimmering due to salt deposits. Soon they were weighed down by their heavy backpacks. “We had about 20-25kg on our backs. Lugging it along at such a high altitude slowed us a lot. At the pace with which we were moving, we would’ve taken double the planned time,” Nadya speaks of their first challenge. They were carrying all their stock of provisions because nothing was to be found on their way through the vast arid land, uninhabited besides a few nomadic settlements. “After crossing the first pass, Kyamuri La (5410m) I just lied down on a rock and didn’t move for a while,” says Mikhail.

The first item to be shed was a tin of Nutella. “It was meant to be a surprise. We have a practice of carrying such goodies on tough treks so that we can pull out a treat to cheer everyone when the spirits get too low. I saw few children running towards us from a distant tent and decided to give it to them,” Nadya recalls meeting Changpas, the nomadic natives of Changthang who move across the Tibetan plateau with their herds of sheep and yaks.

On the fifth day, they reached Tso Moriri, a limpid intense blue sheet of water landlocked by majestic peaks. “It was just wonderful and such amazing colours! I got some very good photographs,” Mikhail animatedly remembers. The group camped at Korzok village by the lakeside. It was like a pit stop midway through the trek and here they found a mule handler heading to their destination Kibber, a scrumptious meal of dumplings, and a double rainbow. The next day was spent walking along the 19km long western edge of the lake.

They saw plenty of the native wildlife – foxes, hares, marmots, and wild asses known as Kiangs. The next halt was a place named due to the abundance of Kiangs – Kiangdom. Here onwards the journey becomes tougher as the wetland recedes and rocky ascend to Parang La begins. Hiring the mule driver had eased off the excess luggage and they could accelerate. “The weather over Parang la looked ominous. We decided to cross it before the impending snowfall,” recalls Nadya. It was a good call as a day after crossing the pass they woke up to fresh snow. “The river had a lot of greenery along its banks and the next morning it had all turned white,” Mikhail recalls the wonders of their journey, “At Parang la I saw a bird struggling to fly away but the sharp wind kept bringing it back to the pass. Then, there was one such beautiful place where I felt that I could sit for hours and just look around.”

The trio reached Kibber after a 10 day journey through valleys and gorges, passes and pastures, water streams and snowfields, overcoming difficulties and relishing the pristine landscape, often on an empty stomach. “Many a times we skipped meals to make up time, especially while rushing to cross Parang La,” says Nadya. “The best moments were when our donkey driver would call out – ‘would you like to have some sampa’ – a local broth made from barley,” Mikhail declares, “It is my highest and longest trek so far. Even Caucasus and Tien-Shan seem smaller in comparison to the vastness of Ladakh.”

“Nobody said it was easy, no one ever said it would be this hard,” Nadya quotes the Coldplay song to summarise the experience.

All photos courtesy Nadya Nechaeva-Banerjee. This article was published in Russia and India Report – a news project of Rossiyskaya Gazeta. 

Spiti Travelogue in Air India in-Flight Magazine

This travelogue was published in the July issue of Air India’s inflight magazine.

Surreal Solitude

Spiti: haven in the Himalayas

words: Priyanka and photos: Nitin Gera

At 14,000ft while strong winds threaten to sweep you off your feet, the beauty of the crescent shaped Chandratal Lake does just that. Chandrabhaga range in the backdrop and surrounding scree seem like an amphitheatre where the pristine lake displays its myriad shades of blue for a rare audience of shepherds or trekkers. Visual extravaganza and tranquillity reach a crescendo in the secluded land of Spiti.

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